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NW Veterans Group Tries To Expand Care In Rural Communities

<p>According to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, there are more than 20,000 veterans living in Central Oregon.</p>

Amanda Peacher

According to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, there are more than 20,000 veterans living in Central Oregon.

Wasco County has just one mental health councilor who regularly works with veterans, active duty military and their family members.

“It is an underserved area,” said Casey Curry, an outreach coordinator with the Returning Veterans Project, referring to veterans services east of the Cascades.

Curry’s nonprofit provides pro-bono mental health and other services for any member of the military who’s worked in a war zone since 9/11. The group focuses on veterans, active duty military and their families in Oregon and southwest Washington.

“We have no providers east of the mountains, except for Deschutes and Wasco and Baker County, and we have one mental health provider in Baker City,” Curry said. “We’re really hoping to up those numbers this year.”

The group works with drug and alcohol councilors, as well as massage and speech therapists to get services to veterans who either don’t qualify for health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs or they live in communities where care is limited.

The Returning Veterans Project is hosting a meeting Wednesday in The Dalles to enlist potential providers.

Curry said her hope is to get more care providers to register their services with the nonprofit and increase the options for veterans in the Columbia River Gorge and throughout Eastern Oregon.

Jennifer Born is a business and employment specialist at the Oregon Employment Department. She works in The Dalles and is working with Curry to increase providers in the area.

“One is not enough,” she said.

Born is a veteran who served four years in the Air Force and three years in the Air National Guard. She said it’s challenging for families after deployments to war zones.

“From my own personal experience, that reintegration factor can be difficult,” she said.

Born said her ex-husband was deployed to Iraq and was gone for more than a year.

“When he came back it was really difficult to reintegrate him back into the household,” Born said.

She said she wishes she had access to a program that could’ve helped.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.